The update is compiled on a volunteer basis by George Reed, the Council’s retired executive director.
May 25, 2016
(Legislators’ identifications are listed only the first time they are named in this issue.)
Authorizing resolutions have been filed on several issues. Under terms governing the 2016 short session, new bills not otherwise qualified for introduction can be taken up only if authorized by a 2/3 vote in both houses. All have been referred to the House Rules Committee. They are:
- HJR 1077, regarding giving local governments the authority to set a minimum wage higher than the state’s (thus overturning one part of HB 2). Primary sponsors: Reps. Luebke (D-Durham), Alexander (D-Charlotte) and Harrison (D-Greensboro).
- HJR 1097, regarding support for breastfeeding mothers and infants. Primary sponsors: Reps. Fisher (D-Asheville) and Harrison.
- HJR 1098, Pollinator Protection Act. The loss of bees and other pollinators poses a significant threat to agricultural crops requiring pollination. Primary sponsors: Reps. Harrison, Jeter (R-Huntersville), G. Martin (D-Raleigh), and Setzer (R-Catawba).
- HJR 1100, raising the state’s minimum wage to a living wage, defined as $15/hour, by 2020 and having automatic cost-of-living increases thereafter. Primary sponsors: Reps. Harrison, Fisher and D. Hall (D-Raleigh).
- HJR 1101, requiring paid leave benefits for employees. Exact terms are spelled out in HB 1113, Paid Sick/Disability/Family Leave & Trust, which would be taken up by the General Assembly only if HJR 1101 were approved. Primary sponsors: Reps. Harrison, Fisher, Gill (D-Raleigh) and L. Hall (D-Durham).
- HJR 1102, “ban the box,” prohibiting employers from asking on an application form whether the applicant had been convicted of a criminal offense. Primary sponsors: Reps. Harrison, Fisher, Holley (D-Raleigh) and Sgro (D-Greensboro).
- HJR 1103, requiring employers to pay the same wages to men and women for equivalent work. Exact terms are spelled out in HB 1114, NC Equal Pay Act, which would be taken up by the General Assembly only if HJR 1103 were approved. Primary sponsors: Reps. Harrison, Fisher, G. Martin, and B. Richardson (D-Louisburg).
Additional introduced bills include:
Strengthening Public Schools
HB 1031, Help Educators with Loan Payment/Special Fund, would use $37.5 million in lottery money to help public school teachers pay off their education loans. A teacher could receive a repayment loan of up to $10,000 per year for up to four years. Eligibility would be based on need, and each loan would be forgiven if the teacher continued to teach for four years after the loan was made. Primary sponsors: Reps. Meyer (D-Hillsborough), Hanes (D-Winston-Salem), B. Richardson, and Salmon (D-Mamers). Referred to the House Education/Universities Committee.
HB 1116, Teacher Loan Repayment Assistance Program, is similar to HB 1031, but the amount of repayment loans available per teacher is based on the economic status of the county, with the greatest loans for those in the most impoverished counties. Primary sponsors: Reps. Hanes, Lambeth (R-Winston-Salem) and Hunter (D-Ahoskie). Referred to House Appropriations
HB 1057, Literacy Coaches/Funds, would spend almost $94 million to put at least one literacy coach (a.k.a. reading specialist) in every elementary school to work with K-3 students. Primary sponsor: Rep. B. Richardson. Referred to Appropriations.
HB 1067, Long-Term Suspension and Dropout Study, would create a legislative commission to study the connection between suspensions and dropout rates and report back with recommendations to the 2017 General Assembly. Primary sponsor: Rep. Pierce (D-Wagram). Referred to Appropriations.
SB 855, Modify School Performance Grades. Public schools are currently given grades of A through F, with grades being based 80% on a school’s performance score, i.e. how students are performing, and 20% on the school’s growth score, i.e., how much the students are improving in their performance. SB 855 would change the grading to a 50/50 balance of the two scores and give extra-credit to lower performing schools which exceed their expected growth. This would provide greater reward to schools (and their teachers and students) who have started with lower performance but are making great improvement. Primary sponsors: Sens. McKissick (D-Durham), Smith-Ingram (D-Gaston), and Waddell (D-Newell). Referred to Rules.
Challenges to Public Education
SB 862, Opportunity Scholarships Forward Funding, would greatly increase state funds available for vouchers (a.k.a. “Opportunity Scholarships”) for students attending private schools, mostly conservative Christian or Muslim schools. Finding that there is a “critical need in the State to provide opportunity for schools choice,” the bill proclaims that it is “imperative” that the state increase voucher funding by $10 million in each of the next 10 budget years and professes to appropriate this money for each of the next 10 state budgets, rising to a total appropriation of almost $125 million in 2026-27. Primary sponsors: Sens. Barefoot (R-Wake Forest), Curtis (R-Denver), and Wade (R-Greensboro). Referred to Education/Higher Education.
SB 873, Access to Affordable College Education Act, contains “various policy changes” which the bill claims are in keeping with 1) the state constitution’s requirement that a public college education be available free of charge “as far as practicable,” 2) the increasing debt with which students graduate, and 3) the numbers of students who never finish college. Specific provisions include:
- Tuition and fees would remain constant for each in-state student in the UNC system for eight semesters. (Special provisions would apply to transfer students, students with extenuating circumstances that prevent finishing in eight semesters, and students in academic programs designated as five-year programs.)
- Student fees must be reduced by 10% to 25% at each campus and then can’t be raised by more than 3% per year going forward. Fees pay for a variety of things, including technology, student activities, student services, and some athletics.
- Tuition at five universities would be set at $500 per semester for in-state students and $2,500 for out-of-state students. The five are Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, UNC at Pembroke, Winston-Salem State, and Western Carolina.
- The current cap of 18% on out-of-state students could, at the discretion of the Board of Governors, be raised or eliminated at those five universities.
- Based on a report to be prepared by the UNC System’s administration, the Board of Governors could change the name of any of the system’s institutions if it believes the name change would benefit “the number, academic strength, and diversity of student applications” at that institution.
- A merit scholarship program would be established to provide full four-year scholarships for up to fifty students at both NC Central and NC A&T. The bill appropriates $3.2 million and requires matching non-state funds.
Supporters of public universities, including faculty members, have raised serious questions about these proposals, including:
- There is no guarantee of additional state funding for the five schools which would have reduced tuition fees. Would those schools be expected to make up the money elsewhere? To provide a quality education with a significant cut in income?
- How much impact has the General Assembly had on Increases in tuition, which have been at least in part a result of reduced state funding and which have contributed to student debt? A letter from the UNC Faculty Assembly asserts that state spending per degree has dropped by almost $7,000 while individual spending for tuition per degree has gone up almost as much.
- Might the plan lead to the closing of at least one of the historically black institutions, an idea that was floated in the legislature last year?
Primary sponsor: Sen. Apodaca (R-Hendersonville). (Additional sponsors include more than half of the Senate’s 50 members, all of them Republicans.) Referred to Senate Education/Higher Education.
Impacting Care of Creation
SB 843, Renewable Energy Property Protection, would expand state requirements and regulations for wind and solar facilities, ostensibly to “prevent interference with property rights, environmental damage, and harms to public health resulting from the siting and operation of renewable energy facilities.” It would not apply to solar collectors on single-family residences. Two provisions are of most concern to the state’s growing renewable energy industry and to those who want to encourage the transition to renewable energy sources. One would require all new and expanded solar or wind facilities to produce no more than 35 decibels of noise at the nearest adjacent property line. (Thirty-five dB is defined by Wikipedia as “very quiet conversation” or “private office noise.”) The other would require new wind and solar facilities to be located at least 1½ miles away from the nearest adjacent property line. A former state environmental official notes that setbacks are only 200 feet for hazardous waste landfills and 500 feet for hog waste lagoons. Primary sponsors: Sens. Cook (R-Beaufort County) and Brock (R-Mocksville). Referred to Senate Rules.
SB 857, Repeal Light Rail Funding Cap. In the 2015 budget bill, the General Assembly and Governor imposed a cap of $500,000 per project on state funding for light rail projects. The provision’s current impact is only on a proposed light rail system for Durham and Orange counties, which had been expecting the state to fund 25%, the amount provided for two light rail projects in Charlotte in previous years (ironically, where Governor McCrory was mayor). SB 857 would repeal that cap. Primary sponsors: Sens. McKissick, Harrington (R-Gastonia), and Rabon (R-Southport). Referred to Senate Transportation.
Workers, Wages, and Healthcare
SB 818, Increase the Zero Tax Bracket, would raise the standard deduction by about 13%. For married taxpayers filing jointly, that would mean an increase from $15,500 to $17,500. This would benefit taxpayers of all incomes who don’t itemize deductions, not just those who would move into the zero tax bracket referenced in the bill’s title. Bill sponsors include Sens. Rucho (R-Matthews), Rabon, and Tillman (R-Archdale). Referred to Senate Finance.
SB 863, NC Healthcare Jobs Initiative 2016, is similar to HB 1073 in providing for Medicaid expansion to cover all people under 65 years of age and under 133% of the federal poverty level. But it emphasizes the benefits in terms of jobs created and tax revenues which will be paid, and it sets up a temporary way to fund the state’s share of Medicaid through assessments on hospitals in the state, which would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Primary sponsor: Sen. Bryant (D-Rocky Mount). Referred to Senate Ways and Means.
SB 864, Increase NC Minimum Wage/Set COLA, would raise the state’s minimum wage to $12/hour and put in place a process for annual cost-of-living adjustments. Primary sponsor: Sen. Bryant. Referred to Senate Ways and Means.
HB 1107/S854, Automatic Voter Registration/Drivers License, would make it virtually automatic that everyone getting or renewing a drivers license or the special ID from the Department of Motor Vehicles (the so-called “walkers license”) would be registered to vote and have their registration information (address, etc.) updated. Exceptions would be for those not qualified to vote or who affirmatively decline to be registered. Applicants would have to verify that they are citizens and meet other requirements for voting. Primary sponsors: Reps. Hanes and Goodman (D-Rockingham); Sens. Lowe and Smith. Referred to House Elections Committee; Senate Transportation.
Nibbling away at Nonprofits
SB 825, Expand Hospital Disclosure Requirements, would require nonprofit hospitals to report on their patient revenue and financial assistance costs, also known as charity care, and to make this information available to the public. The bill was amended in committee to exclude for-profit hospitals from providing the same transparency that would be required of nonprofit hospitals and to require nonprofit hospitals to use current Medicare rates – which may appear to be lower than actual costs – when they disclose their charity care. During the committee hearing, legislators indicated that the bill is designed to provide information about the amount of nonprofit sales tax refunds that hospitals are using to provide charity care. While transparency is essential for all nonprofits, this legislation could set a dangerous precedent of tying tax-exempt status to government-determined metrics for the amount of free or reduced-price services provided by a nonprofit. Primary sponsors: Sens. Wells (R-Hickory) and Rucho. SB 825 has been given a favorable report by the Senate Health Care Committee and is now in Senate Appropriations. [This information and its emphasis on the last sentence comes from the NC Center for Nonprofits.]
Clearing the Record
HB 1115, Automatic Expunction/Wrongful Conviction, would provide for the automatic expunction of a person’s criminal record if that person is either 1) wrongfully convicted and imprisoned and then released by the court system or 2) arrested but charges are dropped or the person is found not guilty. There would be an exception to #2 for those arrested for crimes of rape and other sex offenses or for felonies committed in violation of a domestic violence protective order. In those situations, the arrest record would be preserved even if the person were found not guilty. Primary sponsors: Reps. Hanes and Bryan (R-Charlotte). Referred to House Judiciary IV.